REVIEW OF 19:11-16: In verse 19:11, John saw a rider and His horse. Verses 19:11-13, 15-16 are mostly devoted to a description of this rider. From the description, we can infer that He is the same person that John saw and heard in 1:9ff, the Son of Man, who is also the “first and last...and [is] alive forevermore…” (1:17-18). Moreover, we can infer that He is the Lamb, whom John saw in 5:6ff. From these references and others throughout Revelation, we can infer that this rider is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Moreover, considering various references to the Second Coming, or Parousia, of Jesus, we can identify the appearance of this rider and His armies (19:14) with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This conclusion would need considerable study to verify. I write that because the references to Jesus’ Parousia each are unique in detail. They do not necessarily contradict the description in Revelation 19, but they do contain material that gives a different emphasis or impression than the present description. For example, consider the statement of the angels in Acts 1:11: … “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Notice that the statement in Acts does not mention a horse nor armies nor a battle. We can say, however, that the Acts statement does not rule those details out. The emphasis in Acts is simple: The physical presence of Jesus was removed from those witnesses. Someday that presence will be restored. The description in Revelation 19 emphasizes the fact that the Jesus that Christians have believed in and followed as Lord is the Almighty Lord of all the earth who will destroy His enemies and reign supreme. He will do that when the promise of Acts 1:11 is fulfilled.
Verses 19:11-16 have mostly been descriptive. The following verses focus on action. The great King of kings and Lord of lords has come with His armies. Now let us see what happens!
VERSE 19:17-18: The picture that John draws is worthy of an epic movie: an angel standing in the sun. This figure for a moment dominates the scene. First, he dominates by his position: he is in the sun. That is to say, he stands tall and broad with his back to the sun. All who are there see him and their attention is fixed. Second, he dominates by shouting. All can see and all can hear. Third, he dominates by those he addresses. For he does not address people, though people are the subject. He, rather, addresses the birds.
Birds always seem to be around. They have a very unique ability, one that is singled out in John’s description: they fly. This enables them to escape predators, espy sources of food, be aware of the entire physical situation of the environment--having a bird’s eye view. And birds seem to be in constant motion. They are flying, alighting, pecking, taking wing, calling to others of their species, building nests, feeding young, ever, ever in motion. Jesus called our attention to them, reminding us that our heavenly Father feeds them (Matthew 6:26). It is obvious that birds have to work to make a living, but they are never laid off, for their Employer sees to it that they always have something to do.
So, this powerful, dominant figure, upon whom all eyes are focused, chooses to address the lowly birds and to issue to them an invitation. They are invited to a unique opportunity: to feed at God’s banquet table. This is not the banquet that is referred to in Revelation 19:9, the “marriage supper of the Lamb.” Rather, it is a “great supper” that will serve up the bodies of humans. The birds will be the means by which death becomes the great leveler. For they will feast without discrimination on kings, high-ranking officers, powerful individuals, whether they are military or civilian, ordinary freemen, and slaves, along with the horses that carry the mighty into battle.
This invitation is an ironic and dramatic statement of what is about to occur: The enemies of the Lamb of God will be utterly defeated. A very similar passage may be found in Ezekiel 39:17-20, in which Ezekiel is told to speak “to the birds of every sort and to all the beasts of the field, ‘Assemble and come, gather from all around to the sacrificial feast that I am preparing…” There is controversy about when the battle of Ezekiel 38-39 occurs and whether it corresponds to this great battle of Revelation 19. I, with frankness, must say that I cannot answer that question. Nevertheless, when one considers the language in the invitation to wildlife to feast on the dead, the similarity between the two passages is intriguing.
VERSE 19:19: The invitation to the birds has been issued, and now the promise of their feast is to be fulfilled by the defeat of a vast army. We have already seen one side in this conflict--Jesus Christ and the armies of heaven. Now we see the other side. In command is the Beast. This Beast has been mentioned in the following passages:
11:7: The Beast from the Abyss kills the two witnesses who are described in 11:3-6.
13:1-10 and 12, 14, 15, 17, 18: A description of the Beast and his activities:
He has 10 horns and 7 heads and 10 diadems.
He has the characteristics of a leopard, a bear, and a lion.
He receives a mortal wound, which is healed, which gives the world wonder.
The world worships the devil because of the Beast.
He (the Beast) has a reign of 42 months.
He utters blasphemy.
He fights the saints.
A second Beast has great authority and forces worship of the first Beast.
The second Beast brings in worship of the first Beast by deception.
An image of the first Beast is made. It can speak.
Everyone must bear the Mark of the Beast, which is the name of the Beast or its number.
14:9-11: An angel warns that anyone who worships the Beast and receives its mark will experience torment forever.
15:2 John saw a group of people standing beside a sea of glass; these people had conquered the Beast, its image, and the number of its name.
16:2 When the first bowl of wrath is poured out, those who have the Mark of the Beast and worship the image of the Beast will be given harmful and painful sores.
16:10 When the fifth bowl of wrath is poured out, the throne and kingdom of the Beast is plunged into darkness.
16:13 When the sixth bowl of wrath is poured out, three unclean spirits come forth, one from the mouth of each of the following--the dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet.
17:3-17 The great Prostitute is seen riding on the Beast. The Beast has a timeline: it was, is not, and is about to arise from the Abyss, and then it will go to destruction (perdition). The earth-dwellers will marvel at the Beast. The seven heads of the Beast represent seven kings. But the Beast himself is an eighth king, who will go to destruction. The Beast and the 10 kings will rebel against the Prostitute and destroy her. In league with the Beast, they also will make war on the Lamb, but He will conquer them.
Together with the Beast are the kings of the earth. In 17:12-14, and 17:16-17 the focus is on ten kings. These are involved with the Beast in the following ways:
They receive royal power for “one hour” along with the Beast.
They put their power at the disposal of the Beast.
They make war on the Prostitute, also known as Babylon, and destroy her.
They make war on the the Lamb, who will conquer them.
This last action of the ten kings is very likely alluded to in 19:19. However, the appellation “ten kings” is not used. Rather, simply the “kings of the earth” are pictured as in league with the Beast. We can resolve this in one of three ways. (a) It could be that many more kings join with the ten kings and the Beast. (b) It could be that the “ten kings” of 17:12-17 is a representation of the “kings of the earth.” I believe that the first solution is more likely. The “ten kings” seem to be a special group who come to power within their countries for a brief period in association with the rise of the Beast. These form a powerful bloc of nations that enhance the power of the Beast. One result is that many other nations--most of those on earth--join with the Beast and the “ten kings.” It is this entire group, with their armies, which is now arrayed against the One on the white horse and the armies of heaven.
THE LOCATION OF THE GREAT BATTLE: In 16:12-16 the results of the sixth bowl of wrath is described. Those verses are summarized below:
16:12: The bowl of wrath is directed to the Euphrates river so that it is dried up. This “prepares the way for the kings from the east.
16:13: Three evil spirits procede from the the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet (the “second beast”).
16:14: These spirits “perform signs” for the kings of the earth to bring them together for a battle on “the great day” of God.
16:15: In the midst of this narrative there is a sudden interjection, that is very likely coming from Jesus. He warns that He is coming like a thief. He commends those who stay awake and will not be caught naked when He comes.
16:16: The narrative resumes by stating the place of the battle: a place called Armageddon.
The following is part of a brief entry on “Armageddon” in the on-line Britannica encyclopedia. It was written by Robert E. Lerner:
“The Palestinian city of Megiddo, located on a pass commanding a road connecting Egypt and Syria, was probably chosen as a symbol for such a battle, because it had been the scene of many military encounters owing to its strategic location. (Megiddo was also the site of a crucial battle in 1918 during the First World War and lent its name to the victor: Lord Allenby of Megiddo.) The term Armageddon has often been used by Protestant fundamentalists to refer to an impending cataclysmic struggle between the forces of good and evil. (See apocalyptic literature.) It has also been used figuratively, often by peace activists, to describe a possible nuclear world war.”
My focus in this post is on the Great Battle of Revelation 19:11-21. This great battle is described without mention of Armageddon. Yet, it seems a natural conclusion that this battle takes place at the place where the armies of the earth are gathered--a site that is designated in 16:16 to be Armageddon. This is the only mention of Armageddon in the Bible, yet it is a focal point for our imagination. However, I do need to provide evidence that Armageddon is the location of the Great Battle in chapter 19.
The lengthy discussion which follows, I hope, accomplishes the following:
It defends the idea that the great battle of 19:11ff occurs at Armageddon.
It defends the literary integrity of the book by demonstrating that the proleptic devices that are mentioned serve important purposes in the arrangement of material in the book.
The armies are gathered at Armageddon (16:16) at the completion of the sixth bowl of wrath. The material that follows this moves the focus away from these armies. In 16:17-21 the consequences of the seventh bowl of wrath are described. Those consequences do not involve the Great Battle nor Armageddon; instead, they include: lightning and thunder, an earthquake, the breaking apart of the “great city,” the fall of the cities of the nations. Then, God will make Babylon to drink of the cup of His wrath. Then there is hail with hailstones that weigh 100 pounds. The material that follows the seventh bowl of wrath focuses mostly on Babylon. Chapter 17 is a detailed description of Babylon and information about the Beast that supplements the information of chapter 13. There is a brief mention of the defeat of the ten kings by the Lamb. (17:14) The mention of their defeat is a forward look at the Great Battle. Chapter 17 ends with the destruction of Babylon, and chapter 18 celebrates that destruction. Chapter 19 continues the celebration and then refers to the Marriage of the Lamb and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Finally, in 19:11-21, comes the Great Battle.
The problem of interpretation is that the description of the gathering of the armies which are arrayed against the Lord is found before the destruction of Babylon: the gathering is in 16:16, but the material on Babylon and its destruction is in 16:17-21 and chapters 17 and 18 and the first part of 19.
I believe that this depiction of events is consistent with “proleptic” statements that are found throughout the book. It is my observation that such anticipatory statements create two results. One result is to complete the information at hand. So, in 16:17-21, the main focus is on the deception that leads to an amalgamation of world forces. The deception and amalgamation will ultimately lead to the kings’ gathering at Armageddon. However, the destruction of Babylon--which employs the Beast and his allies, the ten kings--occurs first. The second result of a proleptic statement is to develop anticipation. This anticipation is not merely artistic. It is a powerful communication that helps hold the book together.
Verses 16:17-21 anticipate a battle. It provides information that links to two passages. In chapter 17:12ff, the ten kings are discussed. The kings are linked closely to the Beast to whom they make their power available (17:13). They rebel against Babylon, the Prostitute, and destroy that city (17:16). And they make war on the Lamb, who conquers them. (17:14)
Note that the two military actions that the ten kings are involved in are presented out of order in chapter 17. It is obvious that the kings cannot defeat Babylon after the Lamb has defeated them. In this case, the defeat by the Lamb is part of the “career arc” of the ten kings, an arc that ends in their defeat by the Lamb. The defeat of Babylon is part of the “career arc” of Babylon. The subject of Babylon is returned to in 17:15 and is largely in focus to the end of the chapter. In 17:16 the ten kings are the primary actors who destroy Babylon. The Beast, of course, maintains the leadership role in 17:16-17. So, in the rhythm of the chapter, which mostly swings back and forth between Babylon and the Beast, the ten kings are included, first to round out the description of the Beast, in 17:12-14 (in which the Beast’s ten horns are described as ten kings), and then to complete the story of Babylon, in 17:16-17 (in which Babylon is rebelled against by the ten kings and the Beast). So, we see, not carelessness, but well-designed description that provides the logic of placing the defeat of the ten kings out of order.
In the same way, the gathering of the kings at Armageddon (16:16) seems out of order in the chronology that includes the destruction of Babylon (which is mentioned in 16:19b). However, the gathering completes the current subject, which is the demonic deception of the kings of the earth--a component of the sixth bowl of wrath 16:12-16). This picture also produces anticipation of the final battle. The fact that all the armies of the world are gathered in one place appears to be a giant “power play” of the Beast, but it also creates the opportunity for the defeat of the evil forces throughout the world.
There are, of course, seven bowls of wrath. The seventh bowl and its effects are described in 16:17-21. It is a complex series of events that includes the destruction of Babylon. If we are thinking of chronology, we can think of these events occurring after the events of the sixth bowl. However, we should recognize that the sixth bowl includes the sending forth of the three demonic spirits (16:13). The outcome of their deception is the gathering of the armies at Armageddon. This outcome, it seems obvious from chapter 19, takes place after the events of the seventh seal. The outcome is included in the description of the sixth seal in order to complete the subject matter--which is the sending forth of the demonic spirits. The description of the gathering also creates anticipation for the final battle. In the list of rhetorical devices of literature, this would be labeled “preparation-realization.” The following table presents a summary of the observations from the preceding material:
CONCLUSION: I realize that I have devoted much space to this subject. I do believe that it is important. From this study, I make the following conclusions:
The gathering of the kings and their armies to Armageddon in 16:16 appears to be “out of order,” but it is a proleptic statement which completes the description of the deception of the demonic spirits by explaining that the outcome is the gathering of the armies. It anticipates the Great Battle of chapter 19:11ff.
The defeat of the ten kings in 17:14 appears to be “out of order,” but it is a proleptic statement that completes the description of the ten kings. It anticipates the Great Battle of chapter 19:11ff.
From the viewpoint of the gathering of the armies, two events in the narrative appear to be out of order:
The fall of Babylon in 16:19c is listed after the gathering of the armies. However, this completes the description of the seventh bowl of wrath. It is in the correct order, but the gathering of the armies is out of order in 16:16. This gathering is a proleptic statement.
The defeat of Babylon in 17:16 also is listed after the defeat of the ten kings in 17:14. The defeat in 17:16 completes the career arc of Babylon and is consistent with the arrangement of the material of chapter 17.
The gathering of the ten kings in 16:16 at Armageddon is part of the preparation for the material of 19:11ff. Thus, it is consistent with the narrative of the book to identify the place of the Great Battle as Armageddon. The Great Battle is, indeed, the Battle of Armageddon.